James Trussart is a luthier who recently moved his headquarters from Paris to Los Angeles. A guitar builder since 1980, in recent years, he has upped his profile and reputation by crafting custom steel-bodied copies of Teles and Les Pauls in three finishes – rusty, chrome, and brushed. Though they offer a very distinct physical presence, the tones these instruments produce are every bit as flashy, throaty, and attention-commanding.
Trussart’s technique for rusting the finishes involves leaving the guitar body exposed to the elements for several weeks, allowing it to corrode before treating it to stop the corrosion, sanding it to replicate years of distress, and then finishing it with a clear satin coat. As the raw steel rusts, Trussart’s “touches” add patterns to the proceedings. One of test models had a distinct snakeskin look rusted right into its backside!
“I’ve always like the look and feel of old guitars, believing them to have a life beyond that of their creator,” Trussart says in his literature. “And I wanted to somehow emulate that effect of age and history on my own guitars. I wanted to make a guitar that came with a history and a slight element of neglect, of decay, so it had a personality of its own.”
And personality these guitars do have – in droves.
Graphiques et Son
Our test units included a rusty Steelcaster (Tele copy) and a chrome Steelpaul (Les Paul copy), both with traditional wood necks. The finish on our Steelcaster had a cool tie-dye pattern with heavily grunged bridge, tuners, knobs, and pickguard. The Koa neck had a very familiar early-’60s pre-CBS feel with a 7 1/4″ radius rosewood fingerboard topped off with Dunlop 6150 fret wire and a satin-like finish. We made minor adjustments to the action, dropping it about 1/16″ with no adjustment to the neck being necessary (which is a good thing because adjusting the truss rod requires pulling the neck).
We tested the Duncan-Antiquity-loaded Steelcaster through our house Peavey Delta Blues and mid-’70s Marshall half-stack. The clean tone through the Peavey was bright, but not brash (like you might expect from a metal-bodied guitar); very well balanced, with great harmonics and sustain. The distorted tones had nice high-end bite that didn’t threaten to decapitate, though it did have a tendency to howl as it headed into feedback territory if we dialed in too much gain or stood too close to the amp.
Our test Steelpaul had a high-polish mirror finish, chrome hardware, pickup rings, and pickup covers. The body is hollow with a block of mahogany under the bridge and tailpiece. It has a narrow bolt-on Koa neck with a 10″ compound radius fingerboard, super-low action, and a nice slinky feel. Equipped with Tom Holmes vintage-style humbuckers, it also has that great high-end spit and sustain. But where the Steelcaster got a bit antsy if we pushed the volume too hard, with the Steelpaul we were able to use more gain before it started to feed back, resulting in a very nice, crunchy rock/blues tone.
In all, both guitars play and sound great, with excellent workmanship. Deciding on a favorite finish is obviously a matter of personal choice. Some of our testers preferred the rusted out Steelcaster not only for its dead-on vintage feel and playability, but also because each is unique. While others liked the flashiness of the Steelpaul and its up-to-the-task feel and tones.
Trussart instruments aren’t necessarily every day instruments suited to everybody, but if what you want is a great-feeling, great-playing instrument with tones that live up to true classic/vintage expectations, you might want to give ’em a roll. Every Trussart comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by the luthier.
Features: Metal body with three finish options, Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups (Steelcaster), Tom Holmes pickups (Steelpaul), Hawaiian Koa neck, rosewood fingerboard, 1 5/8″ nut width.
Price: $2,650 to $2,900
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.